Williams Pursues New Directions

November 12, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — There is a "For Sale" sign on the front lawn of Mike Williams' seven-year-old consulting firm, Springthrough Technology + Marketing.

"We just don't have enough room anymore," said Williams of the firm's current facility at 2300 Oak Industrial Drive NE.

The back of the building is currently leased to a former partner's company as warehouse space, but if Williams were to knock down the warehouse for office space to accommodate a bump from 25 to 30 employees in the coming months, he'd exceed the capacity of the facility's parking lot. "What we're going to end up doing with the building remains to be seen; it's not the best market for selling real estate right now."

Still, Williams admits, it's a good problem to have. Not long ago, the fledgling company was headquartered in a spare conference room at Kent Manufacturing Co. on the opposite end of Oak Industrial Drive. Kent Manufacturing Vice President Michael Muraski was an original investor in Springthrough, and remains co-owner of the operating entity for the real estate.

Upon exhausting the spare space at Kent Manufacturing, the venture purchased the long-vacant building at 2300 Oak Industrial Drive with the intent of occupying a portion of it and renting out the balance. It didn't work out that way.

"As I'm looking around, I don't want to make the same mistake I made two years ago: to assume this level of growth and have it be twice that size and be out of room again," Williams said.

From four employees to 11, then to 25 employees today with more on the way, it's been quite a run for the rapidly growing end-to-end technology services firm. With its diverse service specialties and long-standing customer relationships, Williams has hopes to establish the firm as a national entity.

While attending Grand Valley State University on a full-ride scholarship, Williams began working with the Enterprise Resource Planning system at what was then Packaging Corporation of America. After graduation, he was asked by a PCA vendor to fill a position in that consultant's Chicago office.

"I'm this western Michigan-raised boy, and it was a little bit of an eye-opener for me," said Williams. "It was an awesome city, and I learned more about consulting than I did about technology."

A pair of seasoned veterans who consistently flew into the market from an Atlanta satellite became mentors to the young Williams. In particular, he learned about customer service and negotiations.

Mike Williams
Company: Springthrough Technology + Marketing
Position: President
Age: 37
Birthplace: Grand Rapids
Residence: East Grand Rapids
Family: Wife, LeeAnn; children Evan, Michael and Emma
Biggest Career Break: Moving to Chicago to learn the consulting business.

"My dad was a salesman, so I grew up with a lot of this stuff, but they taught me a lot of things that never would have occurred to me otherwise," Williams said.

In 1995, Williams' identical twin, Matt, invited him to join his new Grand Rapids-based startup, Milestone. While working at Milestone, Williams became acquainted with Steelcase and its Turnstone brand, where he met his wife, LeeAnn, who was an employee of Steelcase's surface materials group.

Milestone split up prior to the dot-com bust, with its four employees taking jobs with larger firms. Matt Williams landed at Steelcase, Mike at Amway. But the brothers soon opted to form another venture, Vectis, in partnership with Muraski and Tim Hollstein, a veteran of Great Plains Software, an ERP (enterprise resource planning) brand later acquired by Microsoft.

Within the year, Hollstein and the other partners had an amicable split. Vectis became a Great Plains dealership under Hollstein, and the Williams brothers devoted their efforts to consulting and reincorporated as Springthrough.

"Vectis means 'leverage' in Latin," said Williams. "Springthrough doesn't mean anything. It was the peak of the dot-com era and we were just trying to find a URL that wasn't registered. Maybe when we're a national brand, the marketing people will make up a good meaning for it."

Most of the firm's work involved custom applications and integration of other systems into Great Plains and other ERP packages. That scope soon expanded, and in 2004 the firm created a software package on behalf of local furniture supplier Charter Industries that would lead to Matt's exit from the firm.

"We had written this distribution system, and they loved it," Williams said. "(Charter Industies') Pete Eardley said he didn't want to see us in the paper two years from now as multibillionaires and not be a part of it. He said he'd throw in some money to make it a full-fledged product on the market."

The new venture, SalesPad Solutions, existed as a sister company to Springthrough for a short time. In 2004, Matt and Mike traded stock to separate the companies. Matt still operates SalesPad today. A year later, Mike bought out Muraski to become sole owner of the company, if not its building.

From that point, Springthrough grew rapidly, both organically and by acquisition. It acquired the large ERP subsidiary of local accounting group Beene Garter LLP, brought Hollstein back into the fold with the acquisition of Vectis, and expanded its service portfolio into technology-based marketing with the acquisition of Blue Dog Marketing.

"We started working with (Blue Dog Principal) Jen Czekai to help us with our marketing and discovered that we had some mutual clients," Williams said. "She merged our company with hers, and now we have a unique niche in emerging marketing."

That relationship led to other interesting ventures, including WheresMyDeal.com, a popular restaurant discount certificate portal operated in partnership with Citadel Broadcasting.

"I've been accused of not having focus," said Williams. "We don't ever want to lose that we are a technology company, but we're not going to box ourselves in. I thought we'd never do infrastructure again, but so many customers had asked about it that we felt we had to.

"We have a lot of different directions, and we're going to keep building on that."

Like the name itself, the Springthrough logo had some growing pains. Originally a bouncing ball, the logo was deemed too playful and dropped for a design that resembled a bent spring. Later, after inflicting a great deal of frustration on his designers, Williams suggested the symbol that would become its current logo: the Braille symbol for "S.T."   

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